4 Ways Electronic Music Can Be Used in Music Education

Children working with a tech coach

Children working with a tech coach
Children working with a tech coach at SAFA!’s music lab.

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Many of us have had our first music learning experiences while trying to play a tune with a recorder in music class. Studies show that the first point of music exposure for students is important, as it can direct the future music interests and prospects of an individual.

However, chances are low that the recorder in the music schools will garner the interest of the new generation of students. In fact, according to this article in The Guardian, the number of music students in 9th grade in the UK actually dropped by 22% between 2010 and 2015.

Teaching music from a contemporary music perspective can be the antidote to the problem. And the more collaborative the better. 

This does not mean that the curricula and syllabi for music education have to be watered down, but rather, that the very same skills that this curricula teaches can be re-thought and re-taught from a new perspective. According to this study by The National Association of Music Education (NAfME), music education supercharges attention control, develops planning skills, and improves memory and critical thinking.

Fortunately, we live in an era where music technology creates wonderful software, hardware and brings in wonderful new ways to think about anything music related, which also includes education! Contemporary music styles like electronic dance music and modern pop are widely created by digital audio workstations (DAWs) like Logic Pro and Ableton Live and the hardware that supplements them (such as MIDI controllers and samplers).

So, in this article, I want to provide four ways that electronic music specifically, and largely how the opportunities in music technology world, can be used for music education to heighten students’ experiences and open their worlds up.

1. Students learn to create their own songs from beginning to the end.

We all remember how most of us were looking to express our newfound teenage identities better with the urge to play electric guitar loudly, or to write a song and create  visual art that reflected our latent anxieties in middle school — in ways that classical clarinet simply couldn’t approach.

I only wish could have had songwriting or music production class in school back then, but with the opportunities available today this is possible! By utilizing an easily-accessible DAW and some sampler kits, teaching songwriting is a straightforward task no matter what the musical background of the students are.

It’s all about stimulating the students’ imagination, harboring it, and guiding them through the process of creating a song from beginning the end.

Soundfly alumna Lisa Reshkus' students listening to electronic music in class in Beloit, WI.
Soundfly alumna Lisa Reshkus’ students listening to electronic music in class in Beloit, WI.

2. Collaborative songs make group projects more team oriented.

One of the great things about collaborating with another musician is that it enhances one’s ability to create a healthy teamwork environment. Whether co-writing or co-producing, engaging creatively together involves a lot of communicating and exchanging ideas, lots of listening, and learning how to bring constructive, goal-oriented feedback to the conversation; which are all useful skills for working as a team.

Moreover, a good musician should know how, and eventually learn, to be responsible, and understand the overall importance of being a pleasant person in order to keep work and opportunities coming in. Competitiveness doesn’t always bode well for us musicians…

The group work nature of a project can help students learn from each other, which is also a great way to sustain an interactive learning environment.

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SIRMA producing music

3. Music theory becomes much easier to digest.

Songwriting and music production can include quite a bit of music theory — one will eventually have to know how to write a melody, build chords, and write your own grooves.

Students of music in younger grade levels are often focused on learning their single instrument, within the context of an orchestra. And that’s wonderful for so many reasons! But it doesn’t tend to prepare students for active creative engagement with music when they’re only ever learning and playing repertoire (and repertoire that cannot typically be performed solo).

So hefty subjects like harmony, arrangement, melody writing, rhythmic groove writing, and song form and structure, can be introduced and broken down with the aid of music technology, and taught in exciting and immediately immersive ways using laptops and DAWs.

Just because a student chooses the bassoon as their instrument, doesn’t mean they don’t have the ability to write lyrics or compose counterpoint for other instruments. So, the limitless exploration aspect of working electronically can provide purpose-driven approaches and experiments that help students access a more active approach to music creation in a way that’s safe.

In addition, students will also be exposed to many MIDI instruments on a DAW that they might not have heard before, so it is also a wonderful opportunity to teach students about arrangement and to teach them about the available choices when they are arranging their songs.

+ Read more on Flypaper: “Teaching Myself the Bach Chaconne with Ableton Live”

4. Everyone gets to perform.

Instrument training is expensive and not everyone has access to the funds to rent or purchase large instruments like double basses, cellos, tubas, etc.. While there are many wonderful socially-minded organizations bringing music into all classes of society, there are still many students out there who just aren’t accessible to these often localized initiatives.

In the face of this problem, EDI (electronic digital instruments) might help many students. Exciting MIDI controllers and other units, like the Ableton Push, can be synced up with free or cheap software on the computer, and allow musicians to start making music immediately — both in the studio and performing on stage.

To be clear, I’m not advocating we throw away every timpani and oboe (some artists even use both EDI and traditional instruments like violin together!). Even a successful artist like Lizzo has been able to incorporate her classical flute training into a very electronic pop sound and make it work.

For me, it’s important that young musicians are given the chance to be actively creative, engaged in free explorative play, and given opportunities that require very little money.

Traditional music education takes time, effort, investment, practice, and patience. For these reasons, despite loving music and having an interest to play an instrument or make music, many people stray away from making music in their lives. This “all or nothing” approach deprives many great opportunities for our society, as music makes the world a better place and it should be available to everyone.

Electronic music offers us great opportunities to rethink music education going forward, and I do believe it is worth exploring the possibilities.

(*If you’re an educator and would like to use Soundfly in your classrooms, reach out to us via email to start a conversation!)

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